Barton Street Hookers
Paul McLaughlin

In '68, when I was a college boy
trying to fill the hollow left in my life

by Readers Digest, Ann Landers
and the so-called Ontario education system,

I drove cab for a while
in Hamilton.

I knew the likes of me was not welcome
on Barton Street at 2:00 a.m.,

but there I was, waiting for a hotel beer parlour
to pour its drunken contents out onto the street.

I caught the hookers one night--four of them
squeezed into the back seat of my car

and gave me an address on the Beach Strip,
a motel where I knew they would be

the star attractions
at an all-night sex party.

I cut down Wentworth to Burlington Street
and headed east through the night-shift steel mills:

we had to keep the car windows rolled up
and the claustrophobic air in the car

thickened, thickened, thickened
with the reek of cheap perfume,

cigarette smoke, cheap booze
and musty sex.

One of the girls slumped heavily against the door,
completely depleted under her smeared make-up,

but the other three were flying high
on booze        speed

loud music
and multiple sexual transactions.

They squirmed around like a bunch
of hormonal teenagers on a junior high bus trip.

The youngest one started giggling helplessly
when her tit fell out

and she couldn't seem to get it back in--
I guess it was supposed to be my tip.

And I was overwhelmed by their sexuality:
they had had more sexual partners that night

than I was likely to have
in my whole middle class, suburban life.

They swam in their sexuality,
while I was terrified to put my toe in mine.

A swarm of questions, more felt than thought,
swirled around in my head:

What would they do for $40.00
(about what I could earn in a brutal 10-hour shift)?

What else are they willing do? And for how much?
Does size really matter?

How can they stand to do it with a sweat-
stinking, beery steelworker

who has come straight from the afternoon shift
in the open hearth to get laid

before he goes home to his wife
and his kids?

And the hardest questions of all, the ones I know now
they would have reacted to with blank stares:

How does it feel to be a hooker?
How do you explain your life         to yourself?

I wanted to ask them, but my lips and tongue
were numb and my teeth glued together.

It seemed so unfair. I worked hard at school,
I read the books, I earned the good marks

but these girls,
who never got out of high school,

had intimate knowledge of things
I would never know.

They were so alien to me
and I was so tight-chestedly paralyzed

by the fear that they would laugh at me
that all I could do was listen and watch

as they fucked with my mind
in the rear view mirror.

November, 2000